Indian Agriculture problems are much deeper

Syed Ali Mujtaba

With fresh bouts of farmer protest gaining momentum, currently the Modi government is riding the high Horse of arrogance and the farmers are equally determined to conduct the ‘Ashwameda,’ the Vedic Yag of horse sacrifice.     

The current farmers protest is much deeper than the repealing of the three farm laws and fixing MSP prices. The bottom line is that the Modi government wants a new model of farming in India.

Having been under tremendous international pressure from the World Bank IMF, US and Europe, the BJP government wants to replicate   American or Australian model of farming in India, where corporates will own vast swaths of land and they will do the farming.

Indian agrarian scene has moved drastically since independence. The government dispensed with large holdings and the landlord system. A large number of people became owners of very small land holdings. In this new system that the government created very low investment was made that created an agricultural crisis.

Major crops cropping patterns in various parts of the country, different types of irrigation and irrigation systems storage, transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints; e-technology in the aid of farmers.

This has made the agriculture sector become the most underperforming sector in the country.  There was a need for a huge investment to bring the farm sector in shape. This was never happening and so the BJP government decided that the farm sector is a ripe case for disinvestment and to sell off to those who have interests in its investment.

The government wants to bring agri-food corporates to step into the farm sector and they will go for complete commercialization of agriculture.

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These corporates under the guise of ‘market reforms,’ will use large-scale mechanized (monocrop) enterprises replacing family-run farms.

This will uproot hundreds of millions of rural livelihoods and tear away the very foundation of the country’s cultural traditions, communities and rural economy.

India’s agrarian base will be totally disrupted under the guise of ‘modernization.’ It will displace independent cultivators, food processors and retailers. The corporates will capture the entire agricultural sector and run it on the basis of a profit – loss business.

A set of three laws passed in September 2020 aims to deregulate India’s enormous agriculture sector. The government says these laws will “liberate” farmers from the tyranny of middlemen. But many farmers fear that they stand to lose more than they could gain from the new regulations and that the main beneficiaries will be agricultural corporations with huge financial resources.

India’s new farm laws make it easier for farmers to bypass government-regulated markets (known locally as mandis) and sell produce directly to private buyers. They can now enter into contracts with private companies, a practice known in India as contract farming, and sell across state borders.

The new regulations also allow traders to stockpile food. This is a shift away from prohibitions against hoarding, which could make it easier for traders to take advantage of rising prices, such as during a pandemic. Such practices were criminal offences under the old rules.

There are serious concerns of the farmers: More than 86 percent of India’s cultivated farmland is controlled by smallholder farmers who own less than two hectares (five acres) of land each.

The new rules remove many of their safeguards. Small farmers fear that they just do not have enough bargaining power to get the kinds of prices they need for a decent standard of living when they negotiate to sell their produce to larger companies.

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The new laws also do not make written contracts mandatory. So in the case of any violation of their terms, it can be very hard for a farmer to prove that he or she has been aggrieved, giving them little recourse.

The new rules do not guarantee any minimum price for any product, and farmers worry that the existing MSP will be abolished at some point.

The apprehension about MSP and procurement going away comes from Acts being linked to some previous policy documents like the Shanta Kumar Committee report and the CACP reports suggesting reduced procurement and an end to open-ended procurement from states like Punjab to cut down costs of FCI.

It is feared that FCI itself may start procuring directly from the new trade area to cut down buying costs like market fees and ‘arhtiya’ commission.

It is more about the changes in the “social contract” between the state’s farmers and the Union government that is the root cause of this apprehension.

The farmers and government should be involved in a serious discussion to address this issue. The autocratic and hegemonic may have worked against the CAA protest but as things are developing, the current rulers can be taken out on road and made to parade on the RajPath.

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Syed Ali Mujtaba is journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba2007@gmail.com

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